A Gallon a Day

Today I got an e-mail from Microsoft to fill out a survey for their Commute program. I don’t participate in it, I’m that guy who drives alone in the car each way. But, when I got done, it made me think about what would the benefit be if I took the bus? So, I started doing numbers:

  • Number of trips per month (each way): 46
  • Total millage (each way): ~11mi
  • Average MPG: 22
  • Last price paid for gas: $3.49/gal

After taking a look at that, I roughly estimate that I burn one gallon of gas each day commuting to and from work. That translates to at the most (at least currently) about $3.49 total round trip gas cost.

Next, I went to visit Sound Transit’s website. The ST545 route comes very often and drops off riders right at the 40th street off ramp at Microsoft. The cost of that route is $2.50 each way since it is a two zone trip. So, that would cost $5/day instead of ~$3.49/day. On top of that, I am not close enough to walk to the Montlake bus stop to catch this bus. I have two real options to get to that stop:

  1. Drive near the stop and look for free parking then walk to the stop.
  2. Catch the 25, which only comes every 30min, and get off at Montlake

Between the two above options, the 1st is the more plausible option. There is ample street parking near the bus stop and it would be a short walk to catch the bus. In addition, when I got home, I could get right into my car and drive home instead of waiting for another bus. The downside is that I don’t really gain much time here. I have to wait for the bus for about the same amount of time I’d be waiting in my car to enter 520. Then, once on 520 I have the advantage since my next stop is my parking space at my office instead of being dropped off by the bus at the 40th Street on ramp.

On the way home, things get more complicated. I don’t leave at the same time every day. I sometimes leave at 5pm, sometimes later. If I am leaving at 5pm, there is probably a benefit of taking the bus since it can utilize the HOV lane the entire way up until the bridge. What that time savings is, I don’t know. I would imagine that it is probably about 10 min or so, but I’m just guessing. Again, when I get off the bus, I can either catch another, or walk to my parked car and drive home.

After thinking about all of this, it just doesn’t make sense for me to take the bus. I wish it did, but I can’t seem to find a good reason to make it work for me. Granted, taking one car off the road should be reason enough, but it just doesn’t make sense for me and what I do. I’d be paying more to ride the bus and traveling between meetings would be more difficult since I have more dependencies on external transportation services. This means I spend more time traveling and less time working.

Anyways, I thought it was interesting to see the differences between riding the bus and driving alone. Does that mean then that I’d be willing to pay up to $5 for a gallon of gas? Sadly, probably.

10 thoughts on “A Gallon a Day”

  1. I wouldn’t have guessed it costs that much per day. Obviously taking the bus would be a lot cheaper if you didn’t have to buy/maintain a car at all though. :)

  2. First up, MS and the larger contractors offer you a free bus pass.

    But I don’t think you’re taking into account the full cost of driving that car. For one thing, you’re putting wear and tear on the vehicle – this reduces your maintenance costs, and can have an impact on how often you have to replace the vehicle. I suggest amortizing the cost of a vehicle over the number of miles you put on it – taking the bus 100 times in a year would take 2200 miles off your odometer. I take the bus every work day, so I would save more like 5000 miles. That’s a lot!

    You can also often get your insurance company to reduce your payment if you tell them it’s not your daily driver.

    You also get this bus time to do other things – I have my laptop on which I can work, or I bring a book. The book is a lot more relaxing than driving in traffic. :)

    One more thing off the top of my head is your risk of being in an accident. You are vastly less likely to be in an accident on the bus – and you have much less financial stake. You’re unlikely to get whiplash if a 3000 pound car hits your 40 ton bus. :)

  3. You’re right, Ben. I totally didn’t take into account some of those things. You make some good points.

    Unfortunately I don’t get a free bus pass to use, but I get $25 off a month. Bad part about that is that I have to go to my company’s office to pickup the pass each month. Uber pain.

    Also, for the cost of the car… I guess I consider that a sunk cost. I’ll be paying my lease every month whether or not I’m driving every day. I’ve leased it up to 60k miles, so the wear and tear I’m paying for every month in my lease payments. Granted, I do accelerate the rate at which I get oil changes and gasoline, but both are mandatory to operate any car. However, the point you raise about insurance is worth noting, since that is something, at least in the short term, that I can control.

    And I totally agree about doing stuff on the bus. When I went to UW I took the bus quite a bit and even when I started working downtown I took the bus. It is relaxing since you’re not doing the driving and you can listen to music, read the paper, etc… I totally agree there.

    As for the risk, that’s what my insurance is for. What I pay into my insurance is what I’m willing to risk if I was in an accident. I’m not implying that insurance will save me if I’m in an accident, but it is there to hopefully mitigate the costs. But, when riding the bus, all you really need to make sure you have is health insurance :)

  4. http://www.getrichslowly.org/blog/2006/05/31/the-true-cost-of-car-ownership

    This guy’s own careful analysis came in close to the national average of ownership costs: just about $8,000 per year or $650 per month.

    And that average assumes the cost of fuel is what it is – which, of course, it is not:


    This study calculates that consumers are paying $4-$14 more per gallon of gas than the actual price at the pump. It was done in 1998, before Big Oil took over the White House. Just imagine what the subsidies we all pay might be now!


    And finally, this study shows the cost of automobile accidents in the three-county region is actually higher than proposed multi-billion light rail expansion over the same time period.

    Some day, the insurance industry may start rewarding those who drive less (and are therefore less likely to be in an accident) and charge more for people who clock more miles on their odometer every year. It would be simple to administer via an odometer check – but as it is now, the industry is perfectly happy to subsidize policy-holders who drive a lot, by picking the pockets of those who drive much less.

  5. Ryan – that’s too bad that you don’t get a bus pass. :( $25/month isn’t all that much – I’m surprised at how little of a subsidy you’re offered. I will tell you, though, that I’d be happy to buy you a bus pass for a month if you’d consider trying it again – say, commit to three days a week. You have my email. :)

    I don’t know about considering the cost of the car to be sunk – there will be a point at which you’ll have to replace it, but I actually don’t know how a car lease works. Do you return the car at the end of the lease?

  6. Yea, I have the option to pay it off, or to return it and then decide on what to do from there. But, upon further calculations from BlingO’s suggestion of looking at the getrichslowly.org site, I did some calculations and it’s sick really. I’ll probably make another post with my findings later this week once I work out all of the numbers. Needless to say, I’m glad I’m going through this exercise.

  7. I’m not really a bus advocate (since I’d drive to Redmond if I was staffed there), but here are some more numbers for you to think about.

    You can get a monthly pass for $90. Minus $25 and divide by 23 days and bus rides will cost you ~$2.83/day.

  8. I’m pretty much in the same situation. The bus is a major inconvience. I’d have to *at least* double transfer. All in all, it would take me double the time to get to and from work. And that doesn’t include the time wasted waiting for the bus and getting their early, because if I miss it I’m 30 minutes back. If I wake up 1 minute late, I’m a minute late for work (usually). If I miss the bus, I’m 30 minutes late.

    So, for now I carpool with a fellow MSFT.

    For me, the car isn’t a cost because I would have bought my STI if I lived in the same building as I worked. I love my car, it’s not an appliance.

  9. Ryan, Microsoft should now offer you a bus pass for free – I don’t know if you’ve tried going to your receptionist, but have a shot at it!

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